Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Non-Muslims Giving Alms During Fasting Month

Buddhists, Confucians, Christians and Muslims worked hand in hand in recent days in Jakarta, busily distributing food aid for the poor.

This year, the Chinese tradition of giving alms to the poor during the Cioko celebration falls in the fasting month of Ramadan, when able Muslims are obligated to share a portion of their wealth with the needy.

“Every seventh month in the lunar calendar [also known as the Cit Gwee month in the Chinese calendar], Chinese temples celebrate Cioko [the hungry ghost-feeding festival, known as Ulambana festival in Buddhism] when we pray for the haunting spirits of our ancestors,” Deddy Sukamto, the keeper of Vihara Metta Buddhist temple on Jl. Pal-merah Utara in West Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post recently.

After praying in observance of Cioko, which fell on Aug. 24 this year, Buddhists distribute alms at different times of the month, depending on the policy of the local temple.

“[Last Sunday] we distributed 8 tons of rice to the poor, regardless of their religions or ethnicity, to ease their burdens,” Deddy said.

He added that Buddhists were also required to make offerings to their ancestors’ ghosts. “After the ceremony we also gave away offerings as alms for the poor,” he said.

“The benefactors were mostly our congregation members. But we also accepted donations from people of other religions,” he said.

Deddy said the distribution of 1,600 packages of rice ran smoothly at the temple, which was built in 1953.

“We worked with several neighborhood unit chiefs and community unit chiefs in the Palmerah, Kemandoran, Rawa Belong, Taman Ratu and Meruya areas. These figures then assessed their residents, checking who was entitled to receive alms,” he said.

Deddy said they then handed out coupons to be distributed to poorer residents.

“We made a schedule for the almsgiving and put people into groups to keep the distribution in order,” he told the Post.

Hian Thian Siang Tee Bio Confucian temple on Jl. Palmerah in Central Jakarta also distributed packages of staple foods to poor residents in the neighborhood, but in a slightly different way.

During Cioko, the temple provided a huge amount of food offerings to ghosts. These were later thrown into the air and many people, who had been waiting outside the temple, tried to grab them in what was called a rebutan (struggle) ritual.

After the ritual, the temple began to distribute 4,300 food packages with its own coupon system.
This year, the temple received around 19 tons of rice as alms.

“The rice was actually intended for the ghosts,” temple administrator Fhan Tee Hay told the Post.

Christians also have tradition of sharing their fortunes with people celebrating Ramadan.

Rudi Pratikno from the Santo Andreas parish church in Kedoya, West Jakarta, said the Catholic parish threw a fast-breaking gathering for Muslims each year.

“This year we invited around 100 Muslims who live near the church,” he told the Post, adding that the church had provided both tajil [sugary snacks and drinks consumed to break the fast] and dinner for the guests.

Rudi said the church also invited imams (Muslim prayer leaders) and preachers to lead the tarawih (evening prayers during Ramadan) at the church. “Sometimes we take down our religious ornaments to respect the Muslims,” he said.

Widi Setjono from GKJ Yeremia Javanese Protestant church in Depok, on the outskirts of Jakarta, said his church had organized a cheap staple food bazaar for poor Muslim members of the community from Aug. 28 - 29.

“We gave away around 50 food packages for the poor, each containing 5 kilograms of rice, cooking oil and flour,” Widi said, adding that the church had been organizing such donations for five years to help poor Muslims celebrate the Idul Fitri post-fasting holiday